WELLINGTON (AFP) - The President of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, has died of a heart attack, the Vanuatu Daily Post reported on Saturday (June 17). He was 67.
Lonsdale, who sacked his government two years ago over a massive corruption scandal, passed away in the Pacific island nation's capital of Port Vila.
"National Flag is at half mast early this morning. His body is reportedly at the Vila Central Hospital," the newspaper said.
Former Vanuatu MP Sela Molisa told Radio New Zealand that "Vanuatu has lost one of its greatest leaders." Lonsdale, a civil servant before becoming an Anglican priest, was elected to the presidency in 2014.
Although the role was considered largely ceremonial, Lonsdale became a symbol of hope for Vanuatu when Cyclone Pam caused severe damage in the country in early 2015.
Six months later he steered the country through a political crisis when half the government of prime minster Sato Kilman was convicted of corruption, making them ineligible for office.
After one of the convicted MPs, then-speaker of parliament Marcellino Pipite, pardoned himself and 13 colleagues in his capacity as acting president while Lonsdale was overseas, Lonsdale returned to dissolve parliament and call a snap election which saw Kilman's government defeated.
"He was firm and wouldn't be swayed," Molisa said. "I'm sure the government and every other - especially at the political level - people would recognise that Vanuatu has lost a very outstanding leader."